On a personal note, it is interesting to me how frequently male coaches that know my background with football ask me “why don’t you coach?”. They tend to look puzzled when immediately I respond with, “Oh, no way, I couldn’t do that”. In reality I never know how to respond when someone follows up with, “well, why not?”. Truth is, I’m not sure why not. But what I am sure of, is that the women who do coach are probably the closest thing I see to Wonder Woman.
Coach Lisa Limper was a high school assistant coach for 7 years. She got her start in the coaching world as a student assistant for Steve Spurrier at Florida. Of course, there’s always the gender barrier that exists for female coaches. It is dissipating and many female coaches say that there has been progress made in recent years, but it still exists. This is a fact that Limper knows all too well. When Limper started coaching, she was the only woman in Tennessee high school football to being doing so. Now it is believed that there are only two in Tennessee this season.
The first thing that I have learned is that the network of female coaches is incredible. The camaraderie is unmatched. Each woman is quick to say “oh you have to talk to this female coach” or “make sure to connect with this woman because she knows more than I do”. The community of female football coaches is a very uplifting community. It seems that they each understand that they arrived at their place in the coaching world on their own hard work and merit, but want to make sure that they are not shutting the door on the next woman who wants to do the same.
I could make an excellent case for why coaching staffs are (or would be) better off for having a hardworking woman on their staff. (Cue the concepts of organization, innovation, and good old fashion grit that many women tend to exude). But the women in these roles speak to that for themselves.
Limper notes that visibility was key to her never feeling like she didn’t deserve a seat at the literal and figurative table. She attends as many coaching clinics and AFCA conventions as possible and always asks questions of other coaches. Visibility, as she notes, is why her attending clinics and women like me writing articles, is SO important, it normalizes seeing women in these spaces.
Limper says that usually the hardest part for a female coach trying to break into coaching is having someone give her a shot. After that, male coaches usually don’t make a big deal out of having a woman on their staff. She also believes that the way players have responded to her in the past is directly reflective of how the other coaches have responded to her. The two head coaches she has worked with at the high school level didn’t make a big deal out of a female joining the staff, so the players didn’t either.
However, it is common among female coaches to say that they typically have to explain their qualifications more often and in more depth than their male counterparts. Female coaches tend to have to lead with their qualifications in order to gain credibility whereas male coaches don’t have to “prove” their knowledge upfront to establish credibility with other coaches as often.
So what did I learn, that we can all learn, from female high school coaches like Coach Limper? That there is inherent value in diversity on a staff. That female coaches while uncommon can be incredible additions to any program. That there are coaches willing to help the next coach. That players don’t really care what their coaches look like as long as they’re being challenged and supported.
Big thank you to Coach Limper for her insight and to all the other female coaches for being role models to everyone around the game.
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